Your USA-Portugal preview: There's a lot more to hate than just Cristiano Ronaldo

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Your USA-Portugal preview: There's a lot more to hate than just Cristiano Ronaldo

I mean just look at this guy. (AP Photo)

Look at this guy. Seriously, just look at him. It's almost too easy to hate on Cristiano Ronaldo. If you don't hate him, then just read The Evster's guide to hating him. You will. That doesn't make it not-fun, mind you, but Ronaldo-hate is for amateurs. And since you've been staying up to date with The Level's World Cup coverage, you are FAR from an amateur at this point. Everyone watching the now-even-more-important USA-Portugal match (6 p.m. - ESPN) with you tonight* will hate on Ronaldo (or swoon over him, depending on who you're with). (*You are watching with some people, right? You have plenty of options.) Here's a few more reasons to hate* on Portugal, followed by some actual sort-of soccer points. (*I'm using "hate" in the good clean fun sports sense. I'm a nice guy who doesn't hate anyone. Except J.D. Drew. Eff that guy).

Raul Meireles

1. Raul Meireles

Raul Meireles, or Brian Wilson?

Who He Is: A midfielder who plays in the shadow of Ronaldo, as every Portuguese midfielder does. That's the way Cristiano likes it. Why You Should Hate Him: Just look at his stupid face. He looks like the love child of Brian Wilson and Marvin the Martian. Or really, he just looks like Brian Wilson. And who likes that guy? Why You Will Hate Him: He's the guy most likely to injure an American hero. With the king of the dirty tackle, Raul, out from a red card after head-butting a German, Meireles is the guy most likely to slide tackle Michael Bradley from behind and break his leg. He's also pretty damn good. Why He Won't Matter: Because Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman will eat him alive, and Bradley will find a seam behind him to set up an American goal.

Nani

2. Nani Who He Is: A right-side midfielder who doesn't like to pass, and will be the target of multiple Ronaldo "why aren't you as good as me?" head shakes. Why You Should Hate Him: First of all, he plays for Manchester United. Oh, that's not enough for you? He goes by one name like he's freakin' Brazilian. Sure, Portugal and Brazil speak the same language, but you can't just do the single-name thing. Why You Will Hate Him: He'll make one or two solo moves in the first half that make an American player (likely Damarcus Beasley) look really silly. Why He Won't Matter: Because once he makes that fancy move to beat Beasley, he'll be so proud of himself that he'll start hamming for the camera and get dispossessed. Also, in the second half, he'll remember that he doesn't ever put out more than 45 minutes of effort, and become a non-factor.

Joao Moutinho

3. Joao Moutinho Who He Is: Portugal's playmaker and main conduit to Cristiano Ronaldo. He'll have the ball more than any other Portuguese player, and will spend his entire day trying to set up Ronaldo so he doesn't get yelled at after the game. Why You Should Hate Him: He's that guy you hated in your pickup football/basketball/other football/softball game. The little tiny dude (he's listed at 5-foot-7) who you take one look at and think you can "take," and then he embarrasses you in front of the girl you have a crush on... then takes the girl. Why You Will Hate Him: If the Portuguese find a way past the midfield brick wall of Jones and Beckerman (a big "if"), Moutinho is likely going to be the guy who starts the move. Why He Won't Matter: Because Nani will probably steal the ball from him by-accident-on-purpose (this happened against Germany) and then shove him like those two Cameroonian guys did the other night.

* * *

So now you know who to hate, and you already know where to watch, it's time to put the ball down and get moving.

The Americans are clearly hurt without Jozy Altidore (who apparently fell victim to The 700 Level Photoshop jinx). But, defender Matt Besler and forward Clint Dempsey are good to go after injuries against Ghana, and will both likely start.

The only changes you MIGHT see from the opener will be either Aron Johannsson or Chris Wondolowski in place of Altidore, and possibly Graham Zusi starting over Alejandro Bedoya. There is a slight chance Dempsey starts as a lone striker and they clog things up for Ronaldo with another midfielder, but I'm hoping Jurgen Klinsmann is more positive than that.

For much more (MUCH MUCH more) on the tactics for the match (seriously, you can really impress your friends), check out The Shin Guardian's preview.

With the Germany-Ghana draw on Saturday, the United States would secure a spot in the knockout stage with a win over Portugal. They would then need a draw or better against Germany to win the group.

  • A win and a draw in any order, would secure first place in the group.
  • A win and a loss in any order would be enough to advance.
  • Two draws would be enough to advance (likely as second place).

So, a loss against Portugal wouldn't the end, but it's BAD. The Americans would then need a win against a German team that can't rest any starters in the final game. I believe there is also a mathematical way to advance with two losses, but it's not likely. (UPDATE: Commenter Rick (thanks Rick!) checks my math and proves there is no way for the U.S. to advance with two losses.)

Does first place matter? Yes. The group winner will likely face South Korea, Russia or Algeria in the cooler southern Brazilian city of Porto Alegre. The second-place finisher likely draws a strong Belgium squad in much-warmer Salvador.

My prediction for the first match -- a 3-1 American win -- wasn't too far off, although I predicted two Altidore goals. Close enough.

As for this match? The U.S. takes a surprising 2-0 lead, then holds on at the end as we all age 20 years in the final 10 minutes:

USA 2, Portugal 1.

Nothing to hate about that.

Carson Wentz wears Flyers hat, further endearing him to Eagles fans, Philadelphia

Carson Wentz wears Flyers hat, further endearing him to Eagles fans, Philadelphia

Carson Wentz: Eagles starting quarterback. Rookie phenom. Flyers fan?

Posing with former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, who will be part of the broadcast for Sunday's game against the Steelers, Wentz sported a Flyers hat.

Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol was a visitor to Eagles camp over the summer and chatted up the young quarterback. Hakstol of course coached at North Dakota for 11 seasons and apparently made a fan in the former North Dakota State quarterback.

Like Wentz, Simms came from an FCS school, Morehead State. Let's hope Wentz enjoys similar success to the two-time Super Bowl champion Simms.

Meet the Pittsburgh Steelers: Eagles' Week 3 opponent

Meet the Pittsburgh Steelers: Eagles' Week 3 opponent

Some would say there's a rivalry between the Eagles and Steelers based on rivalry between Philadelphia an Pittsburgh sports fans. The reality is these two teams only meet in the regular season once every four years, so there's no real heat between the players. In fact, we barely know this opponent.

Sure, Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison have been there forever, and Antonio Brown has emerged as a mega star. Just think though, how many current members of the Eagles were on the club the last time they playe the Steelers in 2012? There's been a ton of turnover here since then, and likewise on the other side.

This is not your father's ground-and-pound Steelers either. The offense is predicated on a dangerous passing attack, while the defense is still stout against the run, but not exactly Steel Curtain-caliber. Still, this is one of deepest teams the Eagles will face all season, and breaking down the lineup, it isn't difficult to understand why.

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Ben Roethlisberger

It seems that only in the past few seasons has Roethlisberger been spoken about with the same reverence as some of the other elite quarterbacks in the NFL, but he's been in that realm all along. With a 126-62 record in the regular season and playoffs and two Super Bowl championships, this is a certain first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he's still looking for more. In fact, Roethlisberger is only getting better. Last season saw his completion percentage (68.0%) climb to a career high, while his sack rate (4.1%) reached a new lot. As if it wasn't difficult enough to bring him down at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, the newfound quick release makes it hard just to het him. And when Roethlisberger does hang on to it, look out, because he can throw it a mile.

Strength: Antonio Brown

Who would've imagined five years ago that Brown would become one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history? In the past three seasons alone, the four-time Pro Bowler has 375 receptions for 5,031 yards and 29 touchdowns. That is insane production. What makes Brown so good exactly? At 5-foot-10, 181 pounds with sub-4.5 speed, it's not easy to explain. All you need to know is the guy has become unstoppable. The wise thing to do would be double-team Brown as much as possible and make Roethlisberger turn to his other weapons, but let's be honest, even that game plan probably won't hold him under the century mark.

Weakness: None

The Steelers offensive line is strong, particularly along the interior where center Maurkice Pouncey and right guard David DeCastro are Pro Bowlers. Le'Veon Bell is currently serving a suspension, but DeAngelo Williams leads the NFL in rushing through two weeks, so no big deal. You could argue Pittsburgh lacks great secondary weapons with Martavis Bryant out for the season, but it looks like Markus Wheaton will return from a shoulder injury to bolster the receiving corps. Roethlisberger solves a lot of problems too. His quick release makes the protection better, the fear he will take the top off the defense creates room for Williams and he's made do with the likes of Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers and Jesse James as regular targets in the passing game these first two weeks. 

DEFENSE

Strength: Run defense

Bad news first. If the Eagles hope to take the pressure off of quarterback Carson Wentz with a strong ground attack, the Steelers have that covered. Pittsburgh's defense finished fifth against the run in 2015, and is off to a good start through two weeks, limiting opponents to 3.4 yards per carry. Defensive ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are a load at the point of attack — both active pass-rushers as well — which allows versatile interior linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier to clean up behind them. Third-round rookie Javon Hargrave has been a notable addition at nose tackle as well. Long story short, the middle of this defense is as stout as it comes, so don't expect big numbers from Ryan Mathews or any other Eagles back.

Weakness: Pass defense

Now the good news. You can throw on the Steelers. Actually, the secondary is a bit of a mess. 31-year-old cornerback William Gay has been there forever, and whule far from a shutdown defender, he's solid. Beyond that though, the unit is vulnerable, ranking 30th in the NFL last season and not off to a good start in 2016 with only one team allowing more yards through the air thus far. Corners Ross Cockrell and first-round draft pick Artie Burns are ideally matchups that would be exposed by Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Dorial Green-Beckham. The safeties are vulnerable as well, with uninspiring eighth-year veteran Mike Mitchell and first-year starter Robert Golden in the backfield. It's not as if the Steelers have a tremendous pass-rush either, with James Harrison reduce to a situational player at age 38, so Wentz will have opportunities.

X-factor: Ryan Shazier

The Steelers have a lot of individuals who are capable of making plays, but perhaps the most dynamic among them on defense is Shazier. A first-round pick in 2014, the interior linebacker is off to a hot start this season with two pass breakups, an interception and a forced fumble through two weeks. Last year, Shazier finished with 3.5 sacks, four pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles in 12 games, his first has a full-time player. At 6-1, 230 pounds, Shazier combines near prototypical size with sub-4.4 speed and is about as dangerous a weapon as they come. Paired with Pro Bowler Lawrence Timmons in the middle, the interior linebacker duo is capable of wrecking an offensive game plan in short order.

SPECIAL TEAMS

After surrendering a punt return touchdown to the Bears on Monday, how the Eagles handle Antonio Brown in that role will be a situation to monitor. Kicking away doesn't sound like a bad idea. Chris Boswell has become an unexpected weapon for the Steelers as well, as the second-year kicker has connected on 69 of 73 field goals and extra points since taking over the job last season.

HEAD COACH

Mike Tomlin (10th season, 94-52, 6-5 playoffs)

Pittsburgh has been blessed with remarkable coaching stability, seamlessly transitioning from 15 years of Bill Cowher to Mike Tomlin, now in his 10th season. All he's done since then is go to the playoffs six times going on seven and won a Super Bowl. In fact, the Steelers have finished no worse than 8-8 under Tomlin, a streak that is likely to continue in 2016. Of course, as mentioned before, having a quarterback like Roethlisberger solves a lot of problems. The Steelers have completely transformed their offense, while the defense has gone through some lean years, but the constant has always been Big Ben. Tomlin will continue to look like a brilliant coach as long as that guy is under center.